Some of the most important implements in early rural Ontario were the ones manufactured in the home country and brought across the ocean. The potash kettle, used for boiling lye made from wood ashes leached with water, represented a critical source of income for early settlers who burned the trees they cleared from the land as it was prepared for farming and sold the ashes to the local ashery. The first record of an ashery in present-day Dutton Dunwich was of the one established at Tyrconnell by a Mr. Hewitt in 1825. Mr. Hewitt also operated the general store there that was built along with a sawmill by Absolem Shade in 1820.

In those early days of settlement and land clearance, when money was scarce and supplies difficult to obtain, settlers had to cultivate skills in woodworking and manufacture their own household tools and goods. From furniture to kitchen tools and farm implements, these items represent a chapter in history where self-sufficiency was critical to survival in a remote and unfamiliar new home.

As early communities developed, the local blacksmith played a central role in further land clearance and early farming efforts, producing the fittings and implements that sustained both daily life and local industry. Notable local blacksmiths include Peter Cameron, who operated in Tyrconnell for 18 years, and whose son Peter G. Cameron later became the Member of the Legislative Assembly for Elgin West from 1919-1923. 

Economic development in the early communities brought enterprising local individuals like Dunwich settler Daniel McPherson to prominence. As a boy, Daniel displayed strong mechanical ability and later worked as part of crew operating threshing machinery. Both contributed to his decision to manufacture farming implements that would meet the needs of the pioneer settlers. He made a trip to Lockport, New York in 1847 and enlisted the services of William Glasgow, a woodworker, and Metthias Hovey, an ironworker.The following year, the three men built a small shop and foundry in the village of Fingal, where Daniel then lived, and began the manufacture of tools and implements needed by those who were clearing land and establishing their homes in the Talbot settlement. The firm was called McPherson, Glasgow and Company. The foundry also produced engines and grist mill machinery which contributed to the growth of the small Elgin and area villages. The company saw quick success amidst a period of such significant growth and development and before many years the small shop grew into an extensive establishment, later expanding to Clinton as more roads and settlement moved inland. Early patented farm equpment like threshers, planters, and ploughs both contributed to local economic growth and the early settlement of farming communities.

Explore a survey of artifacts from the Backus-Page House Museum collection that represent these three chapters of early settlement tools and trades.

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Potash Kettle

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A flared-lipped cast iron kettle used for making potash from wood ashes in early Ontario and Quebec. Most kettles like these were cast in British…